Monthly Archives: July 2011

Building an alternative movement in Ireland: interview with éirígí national chairperson Brian Leeson

The following interview was conducted back in late 2008, and first appeared in early 2009 in The Spark newspaper.  Over the next few weeks I hope to  carry out interviews with a number of Irish union militants and socialist-republican activists to put up on the blog.

Philip Ferguson: Could you tell us how you first got involved in political activity?

Brian Leeson: I suppose I first became politically active in the summer of 1989 when I attended a large protest in Dublin that was demanding a British withdrawal from occupied Ireland.  It was called to mark the 20th anniversary of British troops being re-deployed onto Irish streets back in August 1969.  For a few months before the demonstration I had been becoming more politically conscious, particularly with regard to the war that was then raging in the occupied Six Counties.

What struck me most about that day was the contrast between the sheer size of the protest and the tiny amount of media coverage it received.  Despite the fact that more then 20,000 marched that day, it hardly registered on the political landscape at all.  Of course, this was at a time when state censorship by both the London and Dublin governments excluded republican spokespeople from the airwaves.

Within a couple of weeks of that demonstration I had taken a decision to become politically active.  I applied to join Sinn Féin, but at 15 years of age I was too young.  Instead, I started to sell the An Phoblacht newspaper each Saturday morning outside of the General Post Office on Dublin’s O’Connell Street – a building which fittingly had served as the headquarters of the 1916 Rebellion.

From then on I became ever more involved in the republican struggle and the Provisional Movement, which I remained a part of until early 2006.

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Markievicz: Memories of the King’s Visit, 1911

by Constance Markievicz


It was on the National Societies Committee that I first got to know Padraig Pearse as something more than a vague acquaintance, but his great work comes later in my story.  At this time he seemed like a man who was feeling his way, looking for a policy – not for a principle, for he was always quite sure of what he wanted, and was ready for anything he might have to sacrifice and suffer.  He usually came to the meetings with Thomas MacDonagh, and they were full of schemes and hopes.  Another man who fixed one’s attention was Eamonn Ceannt, who also brought forward many suggestions.

Our idea was to use this visit of England’s king for propaganda, and never at any time did we contemplate more than demonstrations to waken and to rally the people and to prevent all this display of imperialism to be taken as a matter of course.  But there were two parties of us on the committee.

The majority, led by Mr Griffith, seemed to be in great dread of a riot, and of the people getting out of hand and getting hurt by the police.  The others considered that the best way to make the Royal visit unpopular with the people was if we could get the police to attack us, and we were willing to take the risk. Read the rest of this entry

Coughlan, Greaves and the stages myth

Part of the aim of this blog is to stimulate some good political discussion.  To this end, and because I tend to agree with the critique of the intellectuals involved with what became the Sticks, I’m putting up this piece.  It first apeared at with the following introduction:

In May this year Anthony Coughlan published an extraordinary 18- page review of a new book by  Matt Treacy, “The IRA 1956-69: Rethinking the Republic”, MUP, 2011.

The review was not based on opposition to the book as a whole. It was to reject any suggestion that he had been a member of the communist party but, more importantly, to reject a “conspiracy theory” that saw himself and others as planning to recruit the IRA to communism:

“that there was a chain of command, lubricated by money, from the Moscow Kremlin to the London King Street Headquarters of the Communist Party of Great Britain(CPGB), of which the Labour historian the late C.Desmond Greaves was a member from the 1930s to the 1980s, and thence to Dr Roy Johnston and the present writer. The supposed purpose of this linkage was to convert the 1960s Republican Movement to “socialism” or “Marxism” and establish a “national liberation front” between the Republicans and the Irish Communists, the latter being represented at the time by the Communist Party of Northern Ireland (CPNI) and by the Irish Workers League, later the Irish Workers Party, in the Republic.”

The review makes some astonishing statements:

“The persons mentioned did not act in unison. As independent individuals acting on their own behalf they welcomed the moves by the IRA and Sinn Fein leadership to “go political” and move away from militarism in the 1960s, as people all over Ireland did at the time, but they had no desire whatever to see the Republican Movement take up “socialism” or Marxism. In so far as they shared a common view of the Republican Movement they wanted the IRA and Sinn Fein to stick to Republicanism, but a political Republicanism, and to stick to civil rights in Northern Ireland when the campaign for these developed there post-1967.”

This is a strange position. These people clearly saw themselves as socialists. Why did they not want republican radicals to become socialists? How did they see socialism becoming a majority current without other radicals converting? If the republican movement itself could not be converted to socialism surely the task was to supplant it rather than help it grow?

An even stranger view is expressed about the evolution of the Official republican movement:
“Roy Johnston had resigned from the Republican Movement and Eoghan Harris became political guru to the Officials in his stead. Harris developed a unique ideological mishmash of his own, which he termed “class politics”……, the Officials or “Stickies” jettisoned Republicanism altogether. They embarked on the course which led them eventually to adopt quasi-Unionist and anti-national policy positions.”

Here we get to the nub of the apologia. The many years of influence that this group clearly had evaporated overnight and were immediately replaced by Eoghan Harris who was responsible for the collapse to the right.

This won’t wash.  The policies that Coughlan and company spent years foisting on the Officials were the policies that led to their collapse to the right.  

And behind this is another  responsibility. The “democratic stage” that they urged upon republicanism in relation to the North is what we have now.  Well can Coughlan and his ilk hold their nose at the sectarian stench coming from there.  They did everything in their power to bring it about.

Below D.R. O’Connor Lysaght takes a closer look at the stages theory that illuminates more clearly the motivations of Anthony Coughlan and the layer of the Dublin intelligentsia that he represented.

Coughlan, Greaves and the stages myth

by D.R. O’Connor Lysaght

Some weeks ago, this writer received a copy of an Indymedia Ireland review article by the distinguished sociologist and anti-EU campaigner, Tony Coughlan. The reviewer’s chief aim seems to be to refute the charge that he was ever a member of a Communist Party. In this matter, he has been successful. Matt Treacy’s The IRA 1956-69, the book reviewed was withdrawn from retail sales and public reviews until Coughlan’s non-membership has been noted within it. However the eighteen pages of his review include analyses and statements that themselves require correction.

It should be stated from the outset that this article does not seek to challenge Coughlan’s assertion that he was not a member of any Communist Party in or out of these islands. The writer is in no position to do so and is happy to accept Coughlan’s word for it. On the other hand, Coughlan himself makes clear that he was one of a milieu loosely identified with the Connolly Association that worked within guidelines set for the majority of the world Communist movement by an overall strategic perspective set in stone by Joseph Stalin.

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Release Brendan Lillis Now!

éirígí general secretary Breandán MacCionnaith has called for the immediate release of Brendan Lillis as the Belfast man’s partner today [Thursday] began a hunger strike in protest against his continued incarceration.

Lillis, who previously served 16 years as a political prisoner, has been held in Maghaberry jail since 2009 when the British secretary of state revoked his release license after he appeared in court on unrelated charges.  Despite the fact that these charges have not been proceeded with and that Lillis is seriously ill, he has not been given a release date.

Lillis is suffering from the debilitating arthritic illness ankylosing spondylitis which, his partner – Roisin Lynch – says, has left him with possibly only weeks to live.

Lynch today began a hunger strike in protest at Lillis’ continued imprisonment at the Andersonstown barracks site in west Belfast.

MacCionnaith said: “The continued imprisonment of Brendan Lillis, a seriously ill man who may have only weeks left to live, is callous in the extreme.

“Brendan has consistently been denied adequate medical attention by the prison authorities in Maghaberry, while the distress for both him and his family has been heightened by the conditions he is forced to endure.

“The initial charge against Brendan was not proceeded with due to his illness.  It is ridiculous therefore that he is held in prison because of a political offence he was charged with in the 1970s – an alleged offence for which he already served a long, long time.”

MacCionnaith added: “The plight of Brendan Lillis raises the wider issue of the British secretary of state’s ability to incarcerate republican ex-prisoners who have been released on license.  At present, Belfast woman Marian Price and Lurgan man Martin Corey are also being held in Maghaberry on the whim of Owen Paterson.

“This situation is intolerable and an effective opposition must be built against it.”

MacCionnaith concluded: “At this difficult time, éirígí extends its solidarity to Brendan, to his courageous partner Roisin and to all his family.

“Brendan Lillis must not be allowed to die in jail.  The British government and David Ford must take the only humane course of action and release him immediately.”

How capitalism works – and doesn’t work

by Philip Ferguson

According to, “In every economic system, entrepreneurs and managers bring together natural resources, labor, and technology to produce and distribute goods and services.”  They do qualify this by claiming, “But the way these different elements are organized and used also reflects a nation’s political ideals and its culture.”  (They also note Marx’s description of a capitalist economy as one in which a small group of people who control wealth make the key economic decisions.)

It’s important to understand that the idea that every economic system has, or requires, “entrepreneurs and managers” in order to operate is factually wrong.  For most of the time that human beings have existed we lived in collective societies, without entrepreneurs and managers.  Different social classes only arose about 10,000 years ago and it’s only in the past few hundred years that capitalism has been the dominant global system.  Facts, however, have never been allowed to get in the way of capitalist ideology – that is, the set of ideas which seek to justify the present system and usually do so by making it appear that capitalism is ‘natural’ and eternal.

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Markievicz on the women of ’98

Below are a series of five articles written by Constance Markievicz in 1915.  They first appeared late that year in the Irish Citizen, the paper connected to the Irishwomen’s Franchise League and edited by Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington and her husband Francis.

In 1915 Markievicz was noting the indifference of so many Irish women to the cause of freedom.  All that was to change over the next few years. . .



FT5S Betsy Gray

Betsy Gray

I have never read in the early history of any country so many stories of great fighting women as I read in the history of Ireland.  The stories of Maeve, of Macha, of Granuaile, of Fleas, and many others, surprise one when one looks around at the Ireland of today, and sees the majority of her women so utterly indifferent to the struggle that is going on around them; caring very little for the National cause, providing they can be amused, well-fed, and prosperous to live in the same style as their friends and contemporaries.  But in ’98 women suffered and saw others suffer, and lived in daily fear of brutality, torture and murder.

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Markievicz speech on women’s franchise, 1922

In December 1921, Michael Collins, Arthur Griffiths and other representatives of the underground Irish government and parliament (Dail Eireann) signed a peace treaty with the British government, without authorisation from Dublin.  The debates in the Dail took place between December 14 and January 7 of the following year, when the Treaty was narrowly passed in the Dail (64-57), while being soundly rejected in every republican organisation (IRA, Sinn Fein, Cumann na mBan, Fianna Eireann).

In March 1922 there was a debate on women’s franchise in the Dail, as the republican movement began to split wide apart over the Treaty.  The vast majority of republican women – for instance, all six women members of the Dail, 93% of Cumann na mBan (the women’s wing of the IRA) – were known to oppose the Treaty and the (formerly republican, now neo-colonial) Treatyites worried that votes for women would benefit the republican/anti-Treaty side.   A further factor in their initial fear was that the war for independence had brought large numbers of a new generation of Irish women into political activity and the public sphere, throwing into question many of the controls over women and much of the social conservatism of Irish life.  People like Arthur Griffiths, who had always supported female suffrage, now weighed that up against their support for the Treaty and their roles in the new neo-colonial administration in Dublin.

Markievicz herself had first gotten involved (albeit briefly) in suffrage activities in Sligo in her younger years.  After returning to Ireland from Britain and France in the early 1900s, she joined the radical republican women’s organisation, Inghinidhe na hEireann, founded by Maud Gonne.  The Inghinidhe women linked together the struggle for women’s and Irish freedom, arguing for free women in a free Ireland, whereas the suffrage groups fought simply for female suffrage under British rule.  In the debate over the franchise in the new neo-colonial state, Markevicz spoke as a militant republican, a fighter for Irish freedom and women’s freedom:


Constance Markievicz TD, Dail Eireann, March 2, 1922

I rise to support this just measure for women because it is one of the things that I have worked for wherever I was since I was a young girl.  My first realisation of tyranny came from some chance words spoken in favour of women’s suffrage and it raised a question of the tyranny it was intended to prevent –

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Resisting sectarianism in Ardoyne


On July 12 – Tuesday last week – hundreds of Ardoyne residents took to the streets to oppose an Orange Order march which had been given permission to march through this nationalist area.  While the Northern Ireland Parades Commission had no problem granting permission to Unionists from outside the area holding their sectarian and supremacist march, the Commission has turned down permit applications by Ardoyne residents to march.

I’d recommend the 8-minute video below on what’s been happening in Ardoyne.  As Dee Fennell of the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective and the written comments at the end of the éirígí video note, events like these are indications of how the apparatus of the sectarian state remains in place.  The state’s repressive apparatus, and the nature of the state, have been partly modernised, and incorporated former opponents of the state, but the fundamentals haven’t changed.



More from Markievicz


While I will be posting up her articles on the women of ’98, I’ve decided I’ll put up some more shorter pieces by her first – her speech in Dail Eireann (and it was Dail Eireann at the time, not the Free State assembly – which, of course, she never sat in) on women’s franchise at the start of 1922 and her speech to the Cumann na mBan conference in late 1921, during the Truce.

These should be up by the end of today.


Independent Workers Union


Readers will note that there is a link on this blog to the Independent Workers Union.  I’d urge people who don’t know about this union to check out their website and activities.  They are basically trying to do in the early twenty-first century what Larkin and Connolly tried to do in the early twentieth century.

The IWU had its annual conference back in April and you can find the speeches of the president (Patricia Campbell) and national secretary (Noel Murphy) on the home page of the site, as well as information about their work around migrant workers.  Go to and scroll down to read about their national conference, their involvement with migrant workers and other IWU news.